“It was necessary to be afraid in order to have courage.”
It’s 1983, London. Cora Seaborne’s domineering husband has died, giving her free rein over her own life. She leaves crowded London for coastal Essex, accompanied by her eleven-year-old son, Francis, and his nanny as well as her fiercely protective friend, Martha. While strolling the grounds, they are met with an intriguing rumour, of a fearsome creature, roaming the marshes and claiming human lives. Enthralled by the story, naturalist Cora sets out to capture the might be undiscovered species, while local vicar William Ransom puts in all his effort to convince her of superstition.
Let’s start with Cora. Oh, dear Cora, you are so self-confident, progressive, and eccentric; you have a passion for learning and exploring the yet undiscovered, that’s appealing and encouraging. You challenged my thoughts about the typical Victorian woman and rebuked some of my presumptions. You broke with conventions and didn’t give a single f about it. You also reminded me of dear Ross, but how can I not when someone loves to chat about fossils?
However, it’s your unconventionality that makes me question your, and the story’s, authenticity. Of course, not all Victorian women are prudish, but shouldn’t you have received more backlash, disbelief, and scorn? It’s not that I would wish something like that to happen to you, but I can’t imagine the Victorian society without even the tiniest bit of gossip. Everyone was so sweet and kind to you. It almost seemed like the perfect world, and we all know that that one doesn’t exist.
And to be honest, besides your abdominable character, everyone fell flat; they had potential, but it wasn’t greatly executed; partly because their behaviour doesn’t seem to fit in with the gossipy Victorian one — as mentioned above, and partly because they missed the complexity and depth to make them feel genuine.
Also, your relationship with vicar Will is one I don’t approve of. You guys started off great; I enjoyed the discussion between faith and superstition vs science and facts, tackling themes and philosophical topics present in the Victorian era; but everything went downhill when these topics got intertwined with feelings. Not that there is anything wrong with falling in love, but it ain’t right when it concerns a married family man with a sick wife (I’m blue da ba dee da ba daa). And it also didn’t help the overall plotline. Your story is already slow-paced and crowded with too many subplots, stirring away from the main topic because of love, wasn’t something this book benefitted from.
Nor did it benefit from the excerpt on the back of the book. A harrowing and terrifying mythological creature is not bound to show up in the narrative, but the superstition surrounding one sure is. Now, I’m not a massive fan of fantasy — so this didn’t matter much to me, but the true diehards out there would probably feel left down.
However, the writing style was superb, especially concerning scenery. The prose was mesmerising, and I got swept away into Victorian Essex. The descriptive passages and letters sprinkled throughout were also lovely. They added depth and intrigue to the story, and I would have loved to see more of them.
- Title: The Essex Serpent
- Author: Sarah Perry
- Published: 2017
- Pages: 448
- Rating: 2/5
- Get your copy here!